One noteable aspect of the report is the relatively different way it treats Loyalist paramilitaries and Republicans, particularly the IRA. It notes in the preamble that parts of Northern Ireland remain far removed from a culture of lawfulness. It also stresses the importance of “individual and collective human rights” to this lawfulness. This goes to the heart of the problem of exiling, a practice common to both sides, but which now (in terms of reported cases at least) largely a Loyalist ‘thing’. It’s a problem that has previously been given a high priority by Bertie Ahern.In section 1.10, the report argues:
In many of the communities in which paramilitary groups are most deeply rooted it exists only to a limited extent. This is partly for historical reasons. It is also because of the influence of paramilitaries and the role they have often performed as an alternative to the legitimate organs of criminal justice. The growth of such a culture will thus bear directly on the role of the paramilitaries because the stronger it is the less will they be able to exert the kind of control or to undertake the kind of activities which have for many years been theirs.
Then on exiling:
3.10 Exiling remains an important issue for us. It is a manifestation of paramilitary activity and one which has a lasting harmful effect on the victims and their families. It is a striking example of the way in which paramilitaries seek to exercise control through fear and threat. And it exemplifies the readiness of paramilitaries arrogantly to take upon themselves the role of community disciplinarians – sometimes quite wrongly called an unofficial justice system since justice is the very thing it lacks.
3.11 Exiling matters to us in another way, as an indication of whether paramilitary groups are changing, and if they are, how fundamentally. Only when a group has both ended the practice of exiling and has allowed those it had previously exiled freely to return home if they wish to do so, can it be said to have given up illegal activity in this regard.
3.12 It is not possible to give an accurate assessment of the amount of exiling, or to attribute it to individual groups. Of its nature, exiling is something which is not comprehensively reported to the authorities or to voluntary agencies.
It then goes on to point out that this ‘soft’ crime (it is accepted by large numbers of ordinary citizens as an effective way of dealing with ‘troublemakers’) is difficult to detect. Although reported crime figures are comparable with Britain, “…the proportion of victims or witnesses in Northern Ireland who decline to give evidence, with the result that prosecutions cannot be brought, which is just over a third, is considerably higher than that in England and Wales”.
In other words this may be a crime, the extent of which is simply impossible to judge, since the communities in which it commonly occurs do not consider it a crime.
Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty